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Back in 1925, Bruce Barton wrote a sales letter that got a 100% success rate. Yes, you read that right:

Every single person he sent this letter to took action. Better yet, each person who received this letter paid $1,000—which translates to $17,000 adjusted for inflation.

How did he do the impossible? And more importantly, how can you apply the 10 lessons from this sales letter to your business?

Well, in today’s show, I read the entire sales letter to you (don’t worry, it's short), then reveal the 10 most important lessons that resulted in a 100% response rate.

Listen now.

Show highlights include:

  • How this sales letter from 1925 got a 100% success rate and each customer paid $17,000 adjusted for today’s inflation (1:12)
  • Bruce Barton’s “emotions and aspirations” secret which empowered him to write a sales letter that had a 100% conversion rate (1:58)
  • Why ethically amplifying people’s insecurities can cause a surge of new clients from every marketing channel you try (11:25)
  • The weird way using your clients’ death as a motivator is the single most persuasive way to convince them of anything (and how to make sure you avoid doing this in a sleazy way) (11:31)
  • Why the wealthiest people are often the most insecure (and how to use this fact to persuade them to do your bidding) (12:18)
  • The “DEE” method for writing captivating stories that makes your ideal prospects ready to fork over their hard-earned money to you (15:11)
  • Struggling to get social proof for your financial advising business? Here’s how to turn yourself into the ultimate form of social proof (18:11)

Need help launching and growing your podcast and getting interviewed on other people’s podcasts? Head to https://LGassociates.mn.co

Want to join Mark’s membership community and discover his not-so-average financial advising techniques? Join here: https://NotYourAverage.mn.co

Like what Mark was putting down in today’s show. Check out his show at https://notyouraveragefinancialpodcast.com

Need a dose of inspiration, or have a mission and a message that the world needs to hear? Then head to https://ThePodcastFactory.com.

Want to make your emails more persuasive, profitable, and fun to write? Join my 7-Day Email Marketing Challenge here: https://www.theadvisorcoach.com/challenge

Want to become an expert at niche marketing and put growing your business on “easy mode?” Then join my niche marketing program here: https://www.theadvisorcoach.com/niche.html

Need help getting more clients as a financial advisor? I created a free, 53-minute video outlining the steps to my “CLIENT Method,” which helps financial advisors land more clients. Watch the video before I take it down here: https://www.theadvisorcoach.com/theclientmethod.html

If you’re looking for a way to set more appointments with qualified prospects, sign up for James’ brand new webinar about how financial advisors can get more clients with email marketing.

Go to https://TheAdvisorCoach.com/webinar to register today.

Go to https://TheAdvisorCoach.com/Coaching and pick up your free 90 minute download called “5 Keys to Success for Financial Advisors” when you join The James Pollard Inner Circle.

Want to transform your website into a client-getting machine? Go to https://www.theadvisorcoach.com/website to get The Client-Getting Website Guide.

Want a masterclass training in running effective Facebook Ads? Head to https://TheAdvisorCoach.com/ads-training.

Discover how to get even better at marketing yourself with these resources:





Read Full Transcript

You're listening to “Financial Advisor Marketing”—the best show on the planet for financial advisors who want to get more clients, without all the stress. You're about to get the real scoop on everything from lead generation to closing the deal.

James is the founder of TheAdvisorCoach.com, where you can find an entire suite of products designed to help financial advisors grow their businesses more rapidly than ever before. Now, here is your host, James Pollard.

James: Hey, financial advisors, hope you're doing well. In this week's podcast episode, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. We are going to take a step back to the early-1920s to learn from a piece of marketing history. We're going to dive into the art of persuasive writing and the magic of a well-crafted marketing campaign.

This isn't just any marketing campaign, though. We're going to explore a legendary sales letter that got an amazing 100% response rate. You heard that right. Every single person who received this letter took action. What made it so compelling? Why did it resonate so strongly with its readers? [01:10.0]

But before we get into the letter, I want to tell you that this was only sent to 24 people. However, before you go, “Oh, well, that's not as impressive, 100% response rate. I could get a 100% response rate if I sent it only to 24 people,” not so fast.
I also want to tell you, all of the people who responded to this letter did so by sending at least $1,000, and this letter was written in 1925, so adjusted for inflation, that's a 100% response rate that got more than, wait for it, $17,000 in today's dollars. That's downright incredible.

Do, who wrote the ad? A man named Bruce Barton wrote the ad. He's an advertising legend. He started a company called BBDO, which is still one of the leading advertising firms in the world, so with his partners, he helped to transform the entire advertising industry, taking it from an era of just mere product promotion into a sophisticated world of strategy and branding. [02:09.3]

I mean, if you're building a personal brand, part of you needs to thank this guy, because he laid the foundation for it. His ad campaigns used a lot of emotional and aspirational messages, and they set a new standard for the industry. They really did.
He was also an author. He was a congressman. But we're going to focus on his marketing work today. I am going to read the entire letter to you word for word, without stopping. Then, once I’m done, I will break it down and we'll dive into the various components, and we'll analyze some of the specific elements that make it nothing short of marketing gold. Are you ready? Let's get started. [02:46.3]

Dear Mr. Blank,
For the past three or four years, things have been going pretty well at our house. We pay our bills, afford such luxuries as having the children’s tonsils out, and still have something in the bank at the end of the year. So far as business is concerned, therefore, I have felt fairly well content. [03:03.4]

But there is another side to a man, which every now and then gets restless. It says: “What good are you anyway? What influences have you set up, aside from your business, that would go on working if you were to shuffle off tomorrow?”
Of course, we chip in to the Church and the Salvation Army, and dribble out a little money right along in response to all sorts of appeals. But there isn’t much satisfaction in it. For one thing, it’s too diffused and, for another, I’m never very sure in my own mind that the thing I’m giving to is worth a hurrah and I don’t have time to find out.

A couple of years ago I said: “I’d like to discover the one place in the United States where a dollar does more net good than anywhere else.” It was a rather thrilling idea, and I went at it in the same spirit in which our advertising agency conducts a market investigation for a manufacturer. Without bothering you with a long story, I believe I have found the place.
This letter is being mailed to 23 men besides yourself, twenty-five of us altogether. I honestly believe that it offers an opportunity to get a maximum amount of satisfaction for a minimum sum. [04:06.2]

Let me give you the background.
Among the first comers to this country were some pure-blooded English folks who settled in Virginia but, being more hardy and venturesome than the average, pushed on west and settled in the mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina. They were stalwart lads and lassies. They fought the first battle against the British and shed the first blood.

In the Revolution they won the battle of King’s Mountain. Later, under Andy Jackson, they fought and won the only land victory that we managed to pull off in the War of 1812. Although they lived in southern states they refused to secede in 1860. They broke off from Virginia and formed the state of West Virginia; they kept Kentucky in the Union; and they sent a million men into the northern armies. It is not too much to say that they were the deciding factor in winning the struggle to keep these United States united. [04:57.2]

They have had a rotten deal from Fate. There are no roads into the mountains, no trains, no ways of making money. So our prosperity has circled all around them and left them pretty much untouched. They are great folks. The girls are as good-looking as any in the world. Take one of them out of her two-roomed log cabin home, give her a stylish dress and a permanent wave, and she’d be a hit on Fifth Avenue. Take one of the boys, who maybe never saw a railroad train until he was 21: give him a few years of education and he goes back into the mountains as a teacher or doctor or lawyer or carpenter, and changes the life of a town or county.

This gives you an idea of the raw material. Clean, sound timber–no knots, no wormholes; a great contrast to the imported stuff with which our social settlements have to work in New York and other cities. [05:47.6]

Now, away back in the Civil War days, a little college was started in the Kentucky mountains. It started with faith, hope, and sacrifice, and those three virtues are the only endowment it has ever had. Yet today it has accumulated, by little gifts picked up by passing the hat, a plant that takes care of 3,000 students a year. It’s the most wonderful manufacturing proposition you ever heard of. They raise their own food, can it in their own cannery; milk their own cows; make brooms and weave rugs that are sold all over the country; do their own carpentry, painting, printing, horseshoeing, and everything, teaching every boy and girl a trade while he and she is studying. And so efficiently is the job done that – a room rents for 60 cents a week (including heat and light)

meals are 11 cents apiece (yet all the students gain weight on the faire; every student gets a quart of milk a day)
the whole cost to a boy or girl for a year’s study room, board, books, etc., - is $146. More than half of this the student earns by work; many students earn all. [06:52.1]

One boy walked in a hundred miles, leading a cow. He stabled the cow in the village, milked her night and morning, peddled the milk, and put himself through college. He is now a major in the United States Army. His brother, who owned half of the cow, is a missionary in Africa. Seventy-five percent of the graduates go back to the mountains, and their touch is on the mountain counties of five states; better homes, better food, better child health, better churches, better schools; no more feuds; lower death rates.

Now we come to the hook. It costs this college, which is named Berea, $100 a year per student to carry on. She could, of course, turn away 1,500 students each year and break even on the other 1,500. Or she could charge $100 tuition. But then she would be just one more college for the well-to-do. Either plan would be a moral crime. The boys and girls in those one-room and two-room cabins deserve a chance. They are of the same stuff as Lincoln and Daniel Boone and Henry Clay; they are the very best raw material that can be found in the United States. [07:56.8]

I have agreed to take ten boys and pay the deficit on their education each year, $1,000. I have agreed to do this if I can get twenty-four other men who will each take ten. The president, Dr. William J. Hutchins . . . who ought to be giving every minute of his time to running the college, is out passing the hat and riding the rails from town to town. He can manage to get $50,000 or $70,000 a year. I want to lift part of his load by turning in $25,000.

This is my proposition to you. Let me pick out ten boys, who are as sure blooded Americans as your own sons, and just as deserving of a chance. Let me send you their names and tell you in confidence, for we don’t want to hurt their pride, where they come from and what they hope to do with their lives. Let me report to you on their progress three times a year. You write me, using the enclosed envelope, that, if and when I get my other twenty-three men, you will send President Hutchins your check for $1,000. If you will do this I’ll promise you the best time you have ever bought for a thousand dollars. [08:59.6]

Most of the activities to which we give in our lives stop when we stop. But our families go on; and young life goes on and matures and gives birth to other lives. For a thousand dollars a year you can put ten boys or girls back into the mountains who will be a leavening influence in ten towns or counties, and their children will bear the imprint of your influence. Honestly, can you think of any other investment that would keep your life working in the world so long a time after you are gone?
This is a long letter, and I could be writing a piece for the magazines and collecting for it in the time it has taken me to turn it out. So, remember that this is different from any other appeal that ever came to you. Most appeals are made by people who profit from a favorable response, but this appeal is hurting me a lot more than it can possibly hurt you. What will you have, ten boys or ten girls?
Cordially yours,
Bruce Barton

Wow, what a letter, huh? What are your initial thoughts? What did you think of that? Would you respond to that letter? Would you support some of these boys or girls? What would your choice be? What did you think of the call to action? [10:05.0]
What did you think of the letter itself? What did you think about the stories, the stuff about Lincoln? What did you think about him ending by saying, “Oh, I’m taking time out of my advertising agency. I could be making money, but, instead, I’m doing this”? What did you think about him talking about dying, about how you can leave a legacy by donating to this school and helping these boys and girls? What did you think about some of the stats that he gave where a certain percentage would come back and how they’d impact the communities? What did you think about the aspirational message?

I’m going to talk about some of these things. My hope is to give you 10 lessons you can learn from this letter and how you can apply them to your marketing. Obviously, this podcast episode can't be hours long, so I'm going to do it very quickly, but I think that I can deliver a lot of value in a short period of time, so let's get started.

What makes this letter so effective? I studied it before this podcast episode. Then I made a list of 10 things. I’m going to read from this list, but I’m also going to riff a little bit. [11:02.0]

Hey, financial advisors. If you'd like even more help building your business, I invite you to subscribe to James' monthly paper-and-ink newsletter, “The James Pollard Inner Circle”. When you join today, you'll get more than $1,000 worth of bonuses, including exclusive interviews that aren't available anywhere else. Head on over to TheAdvisorCoach.com/coaching to learn more.

First, the number one thing I have here is it amplifies people's insecurities. Early in the letter, Barton mentions the question that might haunt many of the readers or the people who are getting the letter: “What good are you anyway? What influences have you set up, aside from your business, that would go on working if you were to shuffle off tomorrow?” This is a reminder of our mortality and the desire, many people have to leave a lasting impact after they're gone. [11:51.8]

And this letter wasn't going to just random people on the street. It was going to people with the ability to give $1,000, aka $17,000 in today's money, so these were already wealthy people, and these people got wealthy from their business. So, he asked that question that really stuck a knife into their hearts, which was “What influences have you set up, aside from your business?” like, Yeah, you have a business, but so what? What else have you done? And, ooh, that gets into people's insecurities.

If you've ever gotten into the research about why successful people are actually successful, one of the themes you'll see again and again and again is that they tend to be very insecure, and if you can find that specific insecurity that your market has and you just twist that thing, ooh, you can amplify the response.

Second, it taps into existing desires. Now, this was something I first learned from Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz, which many people consider the greatest marketing book of all time, and it was written long after this letter. So, Bruce Barton did not learn it from Eugene Schwartz like I did, but I recognized it immediately as tapping into existing desires. You cannot create a desire. You can merely channel what is already there. [13:02.4]

For financial advisors specifically, this means if your prospective clients already have a desire to look good to their family members or to get wealthier, or to be healthier. Whatever that actual desire is—like, Why do they want to retire? Why do they want time freedom? Why do they want to plan for college? Why do they want to leave a legacy?—if you can tap into that desire, your marketing will be far more effective than if you try to create a desire where none exists, because it's much more effective to just channel what's already there.

And in this particular letter, it's about the desire to give wisely. Barton continually emphasizes how efficiently and effectively the college uses donations. He even says that a dollar contributed to Berea does more good than anywhere else. It gets maximum benefit for minimum contribution—and this also addresses an insecurity. [13:49.7]

If you're paying attention, you realize this is another insecurity that the readers may have, because wealthy people, even to this day, still worry like, Are my dollars doing the most good? Am I really making a difference to society? They worry about investing their charitable dollars wisely and getting the best possible, quote-unquote, “return” in terms of social impact.
So, Bruce Barton is not only tapping into an existing desire, but he's digging in this insecurity here. This letter is laced with insecurity, or tapping into other people's insecurities. If you don't believe me, just go back and relisten to it and then try to pick up whenever he does this. It is absolutely incredible and I think it's one of the reasons why it got such a phenomenal or 100% response rate and so much money.

Number three, it has a personalized approach. Barton begins his letter addressing the reader directly and casually, just Mr. Blank, whoever “Blank” is, like Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, and he has a conversational tone that's continued throughout the letter. This personalized approach makes the reader feel singled out and directly spoken to, which fosters a sense of importance and connection to the cause.

This is like a secret that is hidden in plain sight for email marketing, for website marketing, for online ads, for social media posts. You're just calling out whoever it is that you want to call out, and you're making it personal to the reader. [15:12.1]
Number four, it uses storytelling. It's got a lot of storytelling. The power is on full display in this letter. Barton presents the historical context of the college and its students, and he does it in a manner that's dramatic. It's engaging. It's empathetic. He paints vivid pictures of the students and their circumstances. He talks about them being in the mountains and struggling, and not seeing a railroad or a railcar until the boy is 21, a whole bunch of storytelling elements, and by painting this picture, he evokes empathy and compassion in the reader.

He also uses a lot of metaphorical language. If you didn't pick up on that, you can go back and listen. There's a lot of it there, like “Clean, sound timber–no knots, no wormholes.” Like, these kids are made of the same raw stuff as Lincoln. It speaks to the reader, wow. It just does something where you're like, Whoa, these kids are just the raw material. All they need is someone to develop them, like clean, sound timber. [16:10.5]

Number five, it gives specific examples, not vague generalities. Barton gives concrete specific examples of how the donation will be used. He says it'll support 10 boys or girls and he gives tangible impacts. They'll have better homes, better food, better child health. It’ll impact the community. There will be better churches. It's a long-lasting impact and he gives specific examples. He doesn't just say, “Oh, your money will be put to good use.” No, he gives specific examples, and this detailed illustration of the donations’ value makes the opportunity to contribute more appealing and convincing.

Wherever possible, you should be using specifics as well. I have so many Inner Circle members who send me questions about marketing and everything from social media to websites to email, and I love helping them, I really enjoy it. But I would estimate that maybe a third of all of the questions that they asked me can be solved simply by being more specific. [17:05.3]

What do I mean by that? Sometimes they'll ask, “I’m trying to get people to schedule a call, but the call-to-action button that I’m using now is just ‘schedule a call’ and I’m not noticing much of a response.” I say make it more specific. Give people a tangible benefit that they will get from booking a call with you. Instead of just “schedule a consultation,” it will be “get retirement clarity” is the example that I use frequently in the newsletter and in a couple of my emails that I’ve sent out. That is a tangible benefit that people can get after setting an appointment with you or at the end of the appointment with you. They can walk away with it. It’s something that they have. It's something that they can visualize. It is specific.

When it comes to online ads, instead of just saying, “Oh, I’m a financial advisor with x years of experience and I have these certifications,” you can tell people exactly what they're going to get. You go directly to the point. “This is the lead magnet. Here's a picture of it. If you subscribe to my email list, you will get this lead magnet titled this that looks like this,” and you show the cover, “delivered directly to your inbox immediately after subscribing.” That is very specific and it works really well. [18:08.3]

Number six, it has social proof. A lot of financial advisors struggle to understand social proof. Sometimes they'll read Influence by Robert Cialdini and they'll think they're experts on social proof or they think it's just testimonials when they listen to gurus. But it's really not, because even though testimonials can be part of social proof, this letter makes Barton the social proof.
There's no testimonial, like, Oh, I love Berea College and I did really well, and I really hope you'll get money.

There's none of that. Barton is the social proof. He leverages his own authority and his reputation by mentioning his contribution. He talks about sending the letter to 23 other men, which makes it 24 with the recipient and then 25 with himself. He is part of the cause. He is taking his time out. He is the social proof. I can't state that enough. By putting his money where his mouth is, he provides strong social proof that the cause is worth supporting, because he is doing it. He's not just asking people for money. [19:07.7]

I imagine a lot of charities, especially back then, maybe they've gotten smarter now, but back then they would just send a whole bunch of letters and try to get people to donate money, but they never really talked about what they are doing. But if someone approached you, and I used to do this with the Inner Circle Newsletter, I used to make it very public that I donated the first month's payment to a charity called First Book, and I would say, “I donate this money. I'm a big supporter.” I talk about them on the podcast. I am using myself as social proof. If it's good enough for me, then it should be good enough for you. That's kind of the logic there.

So, what can financial advisors do with this information? You can talk about what you do with your own money. You don't have to do anything that would violate your compliance rules, but you can just give an idea that you are eating your own cooking. You can even say that. You could talk about your habits, your discipline. You could talk about how you set appointments and you show up on time when you talk about wanting people to show up on time for your appointments. You could be the example. You could be the social proof. [20:05.1]

Number seven, it has a clear call to action. It asks for a specific amount of money to support 10 boys or 10 girls. This clear instruction, paired with the personalization of choosing between boys or girls, simplifies the decision-making process for the reader. He ends very strongly.

A lot of financial advisors struggle with calls to action because they don't want to appear too pushy, but they don't realize that people want a call to action. They want to be told what to do next. They don't want to be left hanging. They don't want to be confused. They don't want to burn mental calories.

So, if you can make it easier for people and say, “Here's exactly what I want you to do. Please go do it,” or you can ask them a question like Barton did, where he ended with this sentence, he said, “What will you have, ten boys or ten girls?” so people could write the check or send the money and say, “Ten boys, please,” or “Ten girls, please.” That requires very few mental calories, and I’m sure that's one of the biggest reasons why he got the 100% response rate. [21:03.8]

Number eight, it has trust elements sprinkled throughout. This whole letter just has an air of trustworthiness that can't really be explained, it can only be felt, and that's something that applies to financial advisor marketing as well. Either you have this air of trustworthiness or you don't. There are certain things that you just can't get. You have to have it.

Now, that shouldn't be an excuse where you say, “Oh, I obviously don't have it, so I'm not going to try to be a successful marketer.” I don't want you to do that. But one way it builds trust is by assuring readers that he will respect the students’ privacy and dignity, and I want you to get that. I want you to really think, Hmm, Barton went out of his way to specifically tell us that he would respect the students’ privacy and dignity, he wouldn't embarrass them. That sort of thing.

Why did he do that? He wanted to display his respect for the students and how he treats them, but he also wanted to build trust with the reader, and he did that, because he demonstrated how considerate he was to the students. He's showing, not telling. [22:11.2]

This is another reason why storytelling is so impactful, because you can show people how you operate instead of telling them. There's a famous story that I tell in emails, I’ve told it on the podcast before, about Ted Turner. Ted Turner was driving a pickup truck and a journalist was in the passenger seat, and the journalist could have said, “Ted is a man who cares about the environment.”

But what the journalist did was he wrote a story about how Ted stopped the pickup truck pulled over to the side of the road, got a can, threw it in the pickup bed, and got back in the truck and started driving. That simple story says more about Ted caring for the environment and being a considerate man or a conscientious man than anything else the journalist could have told the readers.

Number nine, it is simple. This is huge. This letter isn't filled with complex jargon or overblown language. Instead, it uses plain and simple English to clearly articulate its message. This makes the letter easy to understand. It ensures that his message is accessible to everyone regardless of their background or expertise. [23:11.8]

In a world full of information overload, simplicity can be the key to effectively getting your message across. A lesson for marketers here is to strive for simplicity and clarity in communication, making sure your audience understands the message without any ambiguity. That's why I like the pepperoni pizza rule.

If you're offering pepperoni pizza, talk about pepperoni pizza. Don't talk about the history. Don't talk about how you went to Italy and got Mama’s recipe and how awesome it is, and where you get the tomatoes from a certain place and the sauce is made this way, and you use this language that nobody understands. No, no, no. “Do you want pepperoni pizza? If so, here's pepperoni pizza. Here's where you can get it. Here's how much it is. Act now.” Very simple language that gives people exactly what they want. [23:57.3]

Also, it's just respectful to use simple language, because you don't want to intimidate your reader. You don't want to make your reader feel stupid. And it's not that they are stupid. It's just that you're being considerate. Would you rather read something complicated where you have to read it a couple of times just to understand it, or would you rather read something that you get immediately? Hmm, obviously, something that you get immediately.

Then, number 10. This is the final thing and then I’m ending the podcast episode. It focused on his audience. This is probably the most important thing. Before writing this letter, it's obvious to me that Barton did his homework. He understood the college. He understood the students. He understood the issues the students were facing, and he understood the readers who would be receiving this letter.

This deep understanding allowed him to tailor his message in a way that would resonate with his audience and motivate them to donate, and, obviously, it was effective because it got a 100% response rate, again, with $17,000 in today's money. You can't even just sit here and say, “Oh, well, maybe it was effective.” No, no, no, it was effective. Knowing his audience obviously worked. [25:06.2]

This is the key lesson for financial advisors. Understanding your audience, your audience's needs and your audience's values is fundamental to crafting a successful message. This means spending time conducting market research, understanding your clients and getting a deep sense of what motivates them. This is not something that you can just get from a cookie-cutter template or some guru, expert, consultant, or agency. You cannot do it. It has to come from you.

You have to be the one to figure this out, because, I promise you, the message that allowed Bruce Barton to get a 100% response rate from these people is not going to be the same message that you use to your audience. You have to do some digging. You have to figure out what they like, what they dislike. You have to figure out what their insecurities are. You have to figure out what stories appeal to them. This takes hard work. There is no quick fix, no silver bullet, whatever it's called. None of that. You have to put in the effort. But if you do, you can reap the rewards. [26:01.0]

I hope you enjoyed this episode. I know it's different from the stuff that I usually do, but I wanted to share this with you because it's a piece of marketing history that is just pure gold.
And with that, I will catch you next week.

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